Prairie Fires: Needed but Deadly


Hey everyone! I’m so excited to be doing my first blog post here and to be joining these other amazing fillies and sharing more about the West, myself, and my books. I’m giving away an ebook today, too. 

Let’s jump into it! Recently, I needed to do a little research on something. I wanted to make sure that I was writing a scene authentically, as I’d never experienced it firsthand before. What I found was more shocking than I’d imagined.

“Faster than a horse could run,” a historic witness said, “like a devouring army” another warned. As you guessed from the blog title, they were talking about a prairie fire. These fires weren’t like anything those from the East had ever seen before. They spread quickly and could burn a length of 600 feet in a minute and burn as hot as 700 degrees Fahrenheit! Is it any wonder why a fire was one of the most feared natural and manmade disasters? 




But as I was researching these fires for a book, I learned some fascinating things. Even though they were deadly, fires played an important role on the prairie. Started on accident by a cookfire or lighting, or on purpose by Native Americans to make a pasture or drive wildlife, wildfires kept the prairie land as it was—a prairie. 

A prairie fire is an important thing needed in the renewal of a prairie. I had no idea until I started to research that. Without it, the wide open spaces would become a forest or filled with brush. Interestingly, the fire does not destroy prairie grasses. That’s why they grow back so quickly. As the fast moving fires went across, the base survived. Where the grasses grow actually lives underground, and the root systems can sometimes be fifteen feet deep, which means they survive these devastating fires.


Photo from Urbana Park District

While those new to the prairies might not have known how important the fire was for the prairie’s existence, they knew, without a doubt, how dangerous it was. In A Journey for Leah, Leah has joined a wagon train and experiences one of these fires first hand. 

While today, prairie fires that are started, either accidentally or on purpose are usually able to be controlled, back in the 1800s, it really was a matter of life or death. It would be impossible to outrun a fire and it’s terrible to think about. 

Here’s a small excerpt from that scene in A Journey for Leah: 


        All around them, men and women were rushing to the wagons and pulling out tools. Children were rushing to the stream, the older ones holding the small ones in the water, while those large enough to help were grabbing buckets to fill with water.

         “I don’t understand,” Leah said, as Stanley pulled out a shovel and some sacks. “What’s happening?”

         He pointed to the distance, where a near endless line of smoke filled the air. “Fire. We won’t outrun it. When a prairie fire starts, it spreads fast. All we can do is try to prevent it from getting any closer.” He pointed to a few dozen feet away, where men were starting to dig a trench. “We need to make a barrier, one deep enough and wide enough the fire can’t cross.”

         Leah felt cold then. That’s why the youngest children were in the water. It was to save their lives. 


Creating a firebreak was the only thing that could be done back then. It made watchful eyes, care with fire, and tools such as a plow an absolute necessity. It was much harder back then to create a firebreak. They didn’t have machines like we do, to do the job quickly. That’s one of the things I admire so much about the men and women who came before us, they made good use of what they had and, to be completely honest, built things that would last and were of better quality than we have!

While fire doesn’t appear too often in my books, I know it was a real concern, and I’m grateful for the chance this gave me to do a little research. 

A Journey for Leah is available in ebook, paperback, large print, and human narrated audiobook, if you’d like to keep reading. 



Since it’s my very first time blogging here, and I’m likely a new to you author, I’d love to give away an ebook of A Journey for Leah to one reader. You can enter just by leaving a comment telling me something you enjoy about historical romance books, and a random winner via number generator will be chosen.

Kaitlene Dee Tells About Traveling Food, Covered Wagons, and Romance!

Get ready for a fun time. This week, the Fillies are entertaining Kaitlene Dee aka Tina Dee and she’ll talk about covered wagons, the food they prepared on the trail, and some romance. She mentions a giveaway so don’t miss that.

In my new story, Grace, which is part of the Prairie Roses Collection, nineteen-year-old Grace loses her best friend and inherits her three-year-old daughter, Emma. It was her friend’s dying wish that Grace would raise Emma because the little girl is without any other family.

Adam begrudgingly comes to the rescue of Grace and Emma with a marriage of convenience proposal—and together, they set out to help an elderly couple of sisters move their tea shop business from one town to another in a covered wagon to carry the sisters’ precious bone china and heirloom cabinet. They head from northern California to southern California. What should only take two to three weeks travel time turns out to be a much longer trip, ripe with danger and disaster. In all this, Grace and Adam find out how much they must trust in God as He guides them into discovering that they truly need one another.

Personally, I love outdoor cooking, and writing this story was fun with all the cooking that goes on in it. I enjoyed researching foods pioneers packed and ate for their journeys. Guidebooks made suggestions to hopeful travelers on things to pack in their provisions.

But most interesting to me, was the spices. Some were used for medicinal purposes, as well as for flavoring. Some curatives that were packed were: Cinnamon bark for the relief of diarrhea and nausea and to aid against digestive issues, cloves for its antiseptic and anti-parasitic properties, and nutmeg or mace, which were used for tonics. ( –an awesome and fun resource! They refer to Randolph B. Marcy’s A Handbook for Overland Expeditions, a valuable resource manual for those traveling west).

Some folks also packed potable meat (cooked meat packed tightly into a jar, then covered with some sort of fat such as butter, lard, or maybe tallow and then sealed), and portable soups, desiccated dried or canned vegetables, powdered pumpkin, and dried fruits. These were a surprise to me since, prior to research, I pretty much thought their only options were beans, cornmeal mush, biscuits, bacon, flour, milk if they had a cow, and eggs.

On their journey, Adam used oxen to pull the covered wagon because they were strong, dependable, and able to do well on less abundant food sources. It was fun researching about wagons as well. I didn’t know the wagons carried a pail of pitch under the wagon bed. But discussing covered wagons is for a future post.

The story of Grace is a Christian marriage of convenience, pioneer romance set in the western frontier and is part of the multi-author Prairie Roses Collection. All books in the series are stand-alone stories and can be read in any order. Not all of the stories are set on the Oregon Trail, some travel across state or from one state to another, but all of the stories are romances that occur while on their covered wagon journeys. They are in Kindle Unlimited and are also available for ebook purchase on Amazon.

Next spring, I’ll be contributing two more stories to the Prairie Rose Collection. The stories will be ripe with adventure, romance, and food and I’ll make sure they satisfy your Old West reading cravings.

What kind of food would you pack to bring on a journey like this? Anything special?

Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for an ebook copy of GRACE

Kaitlene Dee lives on the west coast, enjoys outings along the coast and in the nearby mountains, hiking, supporting dog rescues and outdoor cooking and camping. She also writes contemporary western Christian romances as Tina Dee. Kaitlene and Tina’s books can be found on Amazon.

Please feel invited to join my newsletter at and receive a free story: Kaitlene & Tina Dee’s Newsletter

Please follow me on Bookbub at Kaitlene Dee:

Wagons & Waterfalls by Lisa M. Prysock

Happy Fall, y’all! Thank you, Karen, for inviting me to guest blog for Petticoats & Pistols! It’s so awesome to be here among those who love history. Like many of you, I’m drawn to all things historical. Hubby and I recently spent a weekend “glamping” in the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky near the Cumberland Falls State Park in a covered wagon.

The wagons were so fun! We roasted marshmallows on the campfire and made skillet steaks one evening. Our wagon had two electric lights, a mini fridge, a microwave/toaster oven, a desk area, USB chargers built into the nightstands, a king size bed with heating pads, bunkbeds, and a fireplace!

As you can see by these smiles, we found the wagons charming and comfortable. I fell in love with the desk countertop and could easily have spent a week writing there. On our second day here, we also went hiking along the Cumberland River to see Cumberland Falls, take in the autumn scenery, and photograph the wildflowers.

Would you enjoy an outing like this? I had to laugh because the state park has hiking trails everywhere, but one of the signs said, if you see a black bear, run away, and make lots of noise. The bear will think you are weird and leave you alone.

I’m also giving away to one commenter a paperback of Cherry Crossing, Book 1 from my new series, Montana Meadows. The series follows the story of three orphaned sisters surviving on the claim their Pa proved up in Montana Territory in the 1870s, Jocelyn (Josie), Jacqueline (Jackie), and Jillian (Jill). Each book focuses on a different sister. Readers tell me the characters come to life and really jump off the pages. Book 2 is titled Sparrow’s Hope, and Book 3, Silver Mountain. These sisters are quite independent. They can shoot like Annie Oakley and look out after themselves. Although each heroine clashes with their strong heroes, circumstances eventually lead to love as they find their “happy ever afters.”

Ask me about our glamping getaway or anything about my writing and one random participant will win a signed paperback copy of Cherry Crossing! You can find out more about my books and sign up for my newsletter at



And here’s  a link to Cheltowee Trace Adventure Resort if you’re interested in rafting, kayaking, hiking and reserving one of these wagons or a cabin in Kentucky to experience a similar adventure to experience the pioneer life for yourself.


The Oregon Trail Trading Post with Jennifer Uhlarik!

Hi everyone. Jennifer Uhlarik here. Have you ever thought of what traveling along the Oregon Trail is like? While I am fascinated with the idea of our forefathers traveling months along the path to make a life in the wilds of Oregon or other western places, the thought of being that far from civilization—particularly someplace to replenish supplies—is a frightening one. Keeping it real here: I live 2 miles from the grocery store, and it’s waaaaayyyyyy too easy for me to wait until 5 pm some nights to decide what I’m making for dinner, then rush off to the store for supplies. Our ancestors on the Oregon Trail didn’t have such luxuries! They had to pack enough stores to do life until they reached a trading post or fort to buy more.

So how did these trading posts get their start and what were they like?

As early as the 1500’s, French and English fishermen were sailing to the coast of Newfoundland to fish for cod. It was here that they encountered some local Indian tribes who were anxious to trade for metal goods. In order to obtain the iron pots, pans, knives and tools they coveted, the Indians offered beaver pelts, which they could provide in great quantities. It took the fishermen little time to sell the pelts once they returned home, and people quickly realized that the soft underfur of a beaver pelt made a wonderful felt for hat-making. With a growing demand for beaver pelts, both France and England began to explore North America with the intent to colonize it. Not long after, France began setting up trading posts in Quebec. Of course, England’s Hudson Bay Company moved into the area as well, sending traders and trappers across parts of Canada and the American frontier. Wherever they went, Hudson Bay Company set up trading posts to barter with the native population.

As life on the frontier changed from a focus on the fur trade to a focus on Westward Expansion, many of the old trading posts lived on. The owners of the posts continued to trade with the Indian tribes, but they also became outposts where white travels and settlers could get supplies. These small outposts provided staples like coffee, tea, rice, tins of hardtack biscuits, dried fruit, or canned goods. They also offered tools and utensils, such as cast iron pots, kettles, knives, and axes, saddles, and flint and steel for starting fires. Customers could trade for textiles, such as beaver-felt hats, blankets, bandanas, ribbon, thread, needles, and fabric. Ornamental or decorative supplies were commonly found, anything from silver to beads and beyond. And of course, guns, ammunition, and other shooting supplies were a common item found in these trading posts.

I’m sure you can imagine, life on the frontier could be lonely and supplies might be hard to come by. You had to learn to live with what you had…and make do until you could restock. Often, these trading posts were lifesavers, keeping people from starving or doing without until they reached the next major stop on their journey west. Or they might have prevented settlers from having to make a long trek to the nearest town or city, which might be days or weeks away. They certainly weren’t as convenient as today’s 7-Eleven, but I’m betting they were welcome stopovers to more than a few of our ancestors.


It’s your turn: If you had lived in times past, would you have liked to live on the frontier where a trading post might be your nearest source of supplies, or would you have preferred to live in a town or city? I’ll be giving away one paperback copy of The Oregon Trail Romance Collection to one reader who leaves a comment.


Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children. Follow Jennifer at


The Oregon Trail Romance Collection

Nine romantic adventures take readers along for a ride on the Oregon Trail where daily challenges force travelers to evaluate the things that are most precious to them—including love. Enjoy the trip through a fascinating part of history through the eyes of remarkably strong characters who stop at famous landmarks along the way. Watch as their faith is strengthened and as love is born despite unique circumstances. Discover where the journey ends for each of nine couples.


Click HERE to buy


Following the Oregon Trail

Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Mike Tigas

Before I was a romance writer, I was a voracious romance reader. My reading of choice in those early days was historical romance, particularly American-set historicals. There were two facets of American history that drew me more than any others — Colonial/Revolution and Westerns. So it wasn’t a stretch that the first manuscript I ever wrote was set along the Oregon Trail. And since my sister moved to the Northwest, I’ve taken opportunities over the years to go on road trips to see her instead of flying (which I don’t like anyway).

During one of these trips, I got to see with my own eyes several of the Oregon Trail sites that I’d researched and written about in that first manuscript. I was fascinated to travel in the steps of those brave men and women who headed out for a new life, who traveled into the largely unknown landscape that was filled with danger on a daily basis.

Source: Wikipedia Commons, Scotts Bluff National Monument – Panorama. August 2006. Author: Kahvc7

Nebraska and Wyoming are often considered flyover states, but there’s so much to see, so much history to be absorbed if you take to the roads instead. One of the famous landmarks Oregon Trail travelers looked for on their journey was Chimney Rock in present Morrill County, Nebraska. This geological feature made of a combination of clay, volcanic ash and sandstone has a peak nearly 300 feet above the surrounding North Platte River valley. Travelers along the California and Mormon trails also used it as a landmark. You can see it today from US Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. Learn more at the Chimney Rock National Historic Site website.

Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Chris Light

About 20 miles to the northwest of Chimney Rock, also along Nebraska Highway 92, is Scotts Bluff National Monument near the town of Gering. This collection of bluffs on the south side of the North Platte River was first documented by non-native people when fur traders began traveling through the area in the early 1800s. It was noted to be among the first indications that the flatness of the Great Plains was beginning to give way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s named after Hiram Scott, a fur trader who died near the bluff in 1828, though the Native peoples of the area called it “Me-a-pa-te” or “the hill that is hard to go around.”

Oregon Trail Ruts near Guernsey, WY. Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Paul Hermans

After crossing into Wyoming, another National Park Service site preserving trail history is Fort Laramie National Historic Site, which sits at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers. It has a rich history as a frontier trading post and then an Army post up until its decommission and transfer out of the final troops in 1890. The fort also has appeared in pop culture, including in the Oregon Trail and Age of Empires video games, the 1955 movie White Feather, and a 1950s CBS radio drama called, appropriately, Fort Laramie. You can learn more at the Fort Laramie NHS website.

Perhaps one of the most amazing things you can still see today along the Oregon Trail are actual ruts made by the thousands of heavily loaded wagons heading west. This physical evidence made me feel closer to those long-ago travelers than anything else. One of the places you can see these ruts is Oregon Trail Ruts, a National Historic Landmark near Guernsey, Wyoming.

To learn more about the Oregon National Historic Trail overseen by the National Park Service throughout seven states, visit their site. I hope to be able to visit even more trail sites in the future. I’d especially like to see Independence Rock in Wyoming and more end-of-the-trail sites in Oregon.

Have you ever traveled to historic sites you’ve either written or read about? What were your favorites? I’ll give away a signed copy of A Rancher to Love, part of my Blue Falls, Texas series from Harlequin Western Romance to one commenter.

Happy trails!


A Kiss to Remember

On July 28—that’s only three days from now—A Kiss to Remember will release. It’s an anthology of five books by authors we know and (hopefully) love to read.

Her Sanctuary


Her Sanctuary by Tracy Garrett

Beautiful Maggie Flanaghan’s heart is broken when her father dies suddenly and the westward-bound wagon train moves on without her, leaving her stranded in River’s Bend. But Reverend Kristoph Oltmann discovers the tender beginnings of love as he comforts Maggie, only to find she harbors a secret that could make their relationship impossible







Gabriel’s Law by Cheryl Pierson

Brandon Gabriel is hired by the citizens of Spring Branch to hunt down the notorious Clayton Gang, never suspecting a double-cross. When Allison Taylor rides into town for supplies, she doesn’t expect to be sickened by the sight of a man being beaten to death by a mob—a man she recognizes from her past. Spring Branch’s upstanding citizens gather round to see a murder, but everything changes with the click of a gun—and Gabriel’s Law.


Outlaw Heart


Outlaw Heart, by Tanya Hanson

Making a new start has never been harder! Bronx Sanderson is determined to leave his old outlaw ways behind and become a decent man. Lila Brewster is certain that her destiny lies in keeping her late husband’s dream alive: a mission house for the down-and-out of Leadville, Colorado. But dreams change when love flares between an angel and a man with an Outlaw Heart.





The Dumont Way

The Dumont Way by Kathleen Rice Adams

The biggest ranch in Texas will give her all to save her children…but only the right woman’s love can save a man’s tortured soul. This trilogy of stories about the Dumont family contains The Trouble with Honey, a new, never-before-published novella. Nothing will stop this powerful family from doing things The Dumont Way.





YESTERDAYS FLAME PRP WebYesterday’s Flame by Livia J. Washburn

When smoke jumper Annabel Lowell’s duties propel her from San Francisco in 2000 back to 1906, she faces one of the worst earthquakes in history. But she also finds the passion of a lifetime in fellow fireman Cole Brady. Now she must choose between a future of certain danger and a present of certain love—no matter how short-lived it may be. “A timeless and haunting tale of love.” ~ The Literary Times





I’m thrilled to be a part of this anthology with such amazing talents. So thrilled, I’m giving away one electronic (mobi) copy! All you have to do to enter is tell me why you love western historical romance in a comment (include your email address) and I’ll pick a winner tomorrow (July 26).


"Wagons, Ho!" by Agnes Alexander

Agnes AlexanderThe first time I visited the states west of the Mississippi I knew I’d one day write a book set in that beautiful country.  At the time I was immersed in raising my daughter, working as a human resource manager and writing short stories and articles for the local newspaper, children’s Sunday school papers and regional magazines. I even wrote and sold three children’s books based on the work I did at my church with young people.  But the idea of writing novels stayed in the back of my mind.
Fiona's_JourneyFinally, I decided I’d waited long enough. I began writing novels. Three of those first attempts still rest in my desk drawer, but I sold my fourth manuscript – a mystery. Thirteen more mystery, romantic suspense, and mainstream books followed. Then I joined RWA and Carolina Romance Writers where I sat across the table from my idol and fellow member, Harold Lowery (aka Leigh Greenwood).  To say I was awed, is putting it mildly. He remarkedthat people should write what they like to read most. Well, I had not only read everything he’d published, I’d read some of them twice and three times.
RenaCowboy_smI came home, put my mystery writing on hold, pulled out all the pictures from my three vacations in the west. I then took a trip to my favorite used bookstore and bought stacks of western romance novels by a variety of authors. In three months I’d read 200 novels and felt I had a grip on what publishers wanted. Satisfied I knew what to do, I sat down and wrote my first western historical romance. It was a time travel western that didn’t sell at the time, but I wasn’t deterred. I looked through my notes and saw I had a lot of information on wagon trains. I also remembered ‘Western the Women,’ one of my favorite movies, and felt I had to write a novel about pioneers going west.
The large Conestoga wagons were too long and heavy to make the trip so the prairie schooner became the wagon of choice. Many of the immigrants traveling westconverted their farm wagons into ones that could make the trip. Oxen were recommended to pull these wagons because they had no trouble eating the different grasses, though some families chose mules and others horses. One of the most interesting items in my research was the list that many wagon masters put together about what a family needed in the way of food, clothing, and tools to make this journey.
camillaCOVERFood recommended for each adult: 150 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of corn meal, 50 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of coffee, 5 pounds of salt, 5 pounds of rice, 15 pounds of dried fruit and 15 pounds of dried beans. For each child: 1/2 to 2/3 of an adult portion.Many travelers added their favorite foods such as tea, potatoes, dried vegetables and other items. Some brought along a cow for milk to drink and butter, which was churned in a barrel tied to the side of the wagon as the vehicle swayed and bounced along the trail.
Clothing: Each person brought at least two changes of clothes and undergarments, multiple pairs of boots (two to three pairs often wore out on the trip because most people walked). Wool was recommended because it held up well and deflected the sun better than cotton. A sewing kit was a must because items tended to wear out or get torn.
Other necessities were rifles, hand guns, knives, tobacco, ropes, tents, tin dishes, soap, simple cooking utensils, bedding, matches, and medical supplies such as herbs, whiskey, and simple remedies.
Costs could run between $600 and $1,000 to outfit a wagon for this journey.
The book I wrote about the Oregon Trail is Fiona’s Journey, whichcame out in 2012 and was my first published western romance. I now have six western romances published and hope to write many more since I feel I’ve found my place in the writing world.
I love hearing from readers. You can contact me at my websiteor by email at


Thank you for inviting me to write a blog for Petticoats & Pistols. To show my appreciation I’m offering an autographed print copy of Fiona’s Journey, Rena’s Cowboy (the time-travel I mention above and my latest novel Camilla’s Daughters for drawings. Just leave a comment to be entered.

Angel Child…and an Angel Pin for Somebody~Tanya Hanson

When my novella Hearts Crossing Ranch led to a contract for seven more books, I knew I’d have to stretch my imagination and my daily experiences to concoct stories about the eight Martin siblings of my fictional Colorado ranch. A ranch! Me, living on a cul-de-sac in a coastal California community surrounded by strawberries and avocados. Not horses and cows! With the first book set on a city slicker wagon train trip–similar to the one we took around the Tetons not long ago, I looked back on that breathtaking experience for more inspiration.

And I found it in Heather, a severely disabled fourteen year old who went on the trip with her family. Unable to talk or stand or walk unaided, she nonetheless had the time of her life. The last day, when wagon master Jeff put her on a gentle horse for her very first ride, everybody cheered. Tears ran down our faces. She was the prettiest cowgirl ever.

Somehow that moment stuck. You’ll meet a disabled young girl in Angel Child, my upcoming release, who comes to Hearts Crossing for therapy riding lessons.  Closer to home, though, is my twenty-something godson, born with the extremely rare, and in his case, extremely debilitating Angelman Syndrome, who inspired fictional Creighton in the book.  In the story, the disabled ten year old boy manages to steal Scott Martin’s heart as the handsome cowboy falls in love with Creighton’s mom…his former high school art teacher. Oh, who cares about the age difference? They’re grown up now. Mary Grace Gibson has returned to Hearts Crossing as a substitute teacher, and the scene below shows her dealing with a disagreeable student, Keith.

I hope you enjoy Angel Child, my tribute to disabled kids everywhere and the people who love them. The power of forgiveness is a pretty big theme, too. (I always seem to need a lot of that, and to give it, too.)

Anyway, leave a comment today for a drawing for either a pdf copy of Angel Child, book six in the series, or the Kindle version. (Kindle’ll be available next weekend.) As well as this darling baby angel pin from Carla’s Angels.

Hot, living blood ran through his veins. Scott rushed to her, she to him. They met in front of the teacher’s desk, and he wrapped her tight in his arms against his beating heart.

“Aw, Mary Grace,” he mumbled into her hair.

Desire stabbed him straight in the gut, rich searing feelings that surged into love and made him tremble. OK, he could admit it now. Love. He could say the word inside his head. Love. Soon he’d get courageous enough to tell her out loud. He’d been smitten last summer, but these past days with her in his life, at his ranch, at his side whether on horseback or discussing the therapy program finally merged the physical with the emotional, and he knew full well what it all meant.

Scott Martin was in love. In love. Reaching down, he took her face between his palms and lowered his mouth to hers. His lips closed over hers as if he was breathing in a new kind of life, and her mouth nibbled against his. Heat raged but turned to contentment as he the cuddled her close to rid her shudders. “Oh, you are so beautiful.”

“I can return that compliment,” she murmured, their lips still one. “I didn’t like not getting to say goodbye this morning,”

“I didn’t like not getting to say goodbye last night. I missed you.” His arms tightened and they stood melded, both holding the other upright as Scott willed his love to wash over them both.

“Ooooops. Sor-reee.” A whine split the air.

Startled, they broke apart like a quick sword had sliced between them.

“Oops. Sorry,” Keith Murphy repeated, not looking the least abashed. He made a big show about bobbing his head and peering closely at Scott. “Hey, you’re Scott Martin, right? You did my mom’s website for the mercantile.”

Mary Grace ran her hands through her hair to tidy it, cheeks glowing with a furious, beautiful flush. “I told you you’re dismissed, Keith.”

“I just had one last question, Ms. Gibson.” He waggled a smartphone at her. “How come Grant Gibson’s website doesn’t say a thing about Cray-ton It says he lives in Florida with his second wife Marla and their three kids Morse, Mason, and McKenna. You sort of get alluded to, a first wife, I mean, if there’s already a second. But not your so-called son.”

He stood insolent, his sneer so wide Scott held back a swat. Beside him, Mary Grace’s flush turned snow white. 

 Blurb:  Determined to get her life back on track,  Mary Grace Gibson takes on a substitute-teaching  job, grateful for the room and board offered at Hearts Crossing Ranch. The bustling family life helps her heal after abandonment by her ex. But her little boy’s serious disabilities make her cautious about revealing her secrets to anybody. Even Scott Martin, the handsome cowboy who’s fast stealing her heart.

Her former student now grown up, cowboy and graphic artist Scott Martin is instantly drawn to the beautiful single mom. She’s had some hard luck but never let go of her faith. Their age gap doesn’t fret him, and their kisses ignite his love. But as they fall for each other, Mary Grace’s lack of trust in him shatters his feelings, for he’s been down that broken trail before.

(Click on cover to purchase or for notification.)

It All Started With A Wagon Train . . .

Readers and interviewers often ask about what got me interested in writing western romances. Well, there’s a reason my logo features a wagon wheel. It all started with a wagon train.

The early seeds were planted with Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie, both the books and the television series. But it wasn’t until the late 80’s when I was a senior in high school that the love affair truly began. I can still recall standing in a bookstore  during one of those high school band trip time killers – you know, the ones where the bus pulls up to the local mall and lets the kids loose on the food court and shops with the only perameter being, “Meet back here by 5:30.” Well, where else would I spend time but in a bookstore? Besides, I needed something to read on the bus ride home.

I sat staring at the shelves, picking up book after book but not realy finding anything I liked. Then a friend (a boy, no less!) suggested I try Dana Fuller Ross’s Wagon’s West Series. Apparently his sister liked them. I picked up Independence!, the first in the series, and was instantly hooked. I can’t remember how many I ended up reading, but I think I read at least the first 8, up through Nevada! There were 24 total in the series.

Now that my appetite for romance and adventure on the western trail had been whetted, I sought more. Imagine my delight when I stumbled across Saturday reruns of the old westerns from the 50’s and 60’s. Bonanza. The Big Valley. The Rifleman. I loved them all.

Yet when I saw a promo for Wagon Train, teenage heart palpitations nearly sent me into a swoon. I’d thought Pernell Roberts was to-die-for as Adam Cartwright, but when I caught a glimpse of Robert Fuller as the trail scout, Cooper Smith, I was in love. And the fact that the channel only showed Wagon Train for a short time before discontinuing it, only made my heart grow fonder. We were star-crossed lovers, Cooper and I, held apart by a tragic whim of fate.

About this same time, my best friend got me hooked on old movies. We’d go to the video store and try out everything from Audrey Hepburn to Fred Astaire. I started watching the classic movie channel on TV as well. And that’s where I found it. My favorite western movie of all time. Westward the Women.

Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. Most haven’t. It doesn’t star John Wayne or Gary Cooper. In fact, nearly the entire cast is female. Odd for a western, right? But that’s part of the reason I loved it. That and the fact that it all takes place on a . . . you guessed it . . . wagon train.

In the story, a land developer arranges for the transport of moral, able-bodied women to travel from Chicago to his settlement in California to become wives to the frontiersmen there. The women have a variety of motivations for joining the train. Some are in financial straits. Some have lost husbands and have no where else to go. Some are simply looking to make a new start. The wagon master has serious doubts about their ability to cope with the arduous demands of the journey and tries to convince the land developer to give up on the scheme. The women prove tougher than he expects, though, and with a little training on firearms and team driving, they set out. As the wagon master’s respect for the women in his care grows so do the women’s respect for themselves. The film destroys sterotypes of women as the weaker sex. And the central love story between the wagon master and the French saloon dancer who is looking to leave her past behind demonstrates that love really does conquor all.

Westward the Women came out in 1951 and was based on a concept idealized by Hollywood legend, Frank Capra, after he read an article in a 1940’s magazine about a group of South American women who crossed the Isthmus to become brides for a group of male settlers. It was filmed the Utah mountains and California desert and all the actresses were given extensive training in handling frontier weapons, bullwhip cracking, blacksmithing, horseback riding, mule driving, and assembling and disassembling covered wagons. My writer’s research heart is drooling in envy.

Alas, Netflix doesn’t carry it, so I might have to find a copy I can purchase. Because even though I haven’t seen it in probably 20 years or more, I still remember it in vivid detail. I still want to be like those women–tough, determined, and ready to take on any challenge this journey of life throws at me.

So what about you? What got you started on western romances? Books, movies, television, growing up on a ranch? I’d love to hear your story!

The Colonel, the Calf Wagon and the Chuckwagon

I’ve heard it said that you learn something new every day … and today was certainly one of them.  To my surprise, when I was reviewing my research for today’s blog, I discovered something new … the chuckwagon wasn’t named for its inventor, Colonel Charles Goodnight!

Colonel Goodnight was the first permanent rancher in the Texas Panhandle. Although he wasn’t a native Texan, he got here as quick as he could. At the age of nine, Charlie traveled with his family 800 miles from his home in Illinois to Waco, Texas, riding bareback on a mare called Blaze. As a youth he was a fairly good horse jockey, bull whacker, rail splitter and herded cattle.  He served during the Civil War and was a Scout and Guide with the infamous Texas Rangers. After the war, he devoted his career almost exclusively to cattle. 

At the age of thirty, he blazed his first famous cattle trail … the Goodnight-Loving Trail. He was one of the first cattlemen who recognized that the same head worth $4.00 in the Texas Panhandle was worth ten times that in the markets farther north.  Goodnight also was the first to recognize that calves born on the trail were money at the end of the drive…but only if they survived and gained weight. The early practice was to kill calves because they could not keep up with the herd on their own.  Cattleman Goodnight resolved that issue by contracting to have special wagons made that held 30 to 40 calves.  Any calves born on the trail werepicked up by the drovers and put on the “calf wagon” for the day’s drive.  When nightfall came, the calves were turned out with their mothers to nurse.

Goodnight soon discovered he had another problem on his hands. A cow knows her own calf by its smell and The Colonel found that when he put different calves together in the “calf wagon” during the day, their scents mixed. Thus, they were rejected by their mamas and would eventually starve to death. He then ordered his drovers to place each calf in its own separate sack, leaving the calf’s head out and tying the sack around its neck. The sacks were numbered so that the same calf went into the same sack each morning after being with its mother at night. The calves rode safely in the calf wagon during the day and spend the night with their mamas. The calves arrived at market healthy and in good shape. That meant increased profits at the end of the drive. I can only imagine what his cattle drives looked like. 

Cattle typically follow a lead steer and for many of his drives, Goodnight’s lead steer was “Old Blue”. According to legend, this famous steer helped lead a thousand head 250 miles up to Dodge City. That accomplished, Old Blue then turned around and trotted back home with the cowboys.

Known as the “Pulse of the Panhandle,” Goodnight helped organize the Panhandle Stock Association of Texas to fight rustling.   In the 1870’s when it became apparent that the hide hunters would eventually exterminate the buffalo, with the encouragement of his wife, he started his own herd of domestic buffalo.  When buffalo products became exceedingly scarce such things as hides, robes, mounted heads and horns became a hot commodity. Buffalo meat was a high-priced luxury.

As time went on, friends began to comment that Goodnight with his mop of shaggy hair over bright dark eyes topped a massive, strong body, which with age, showed a hump rounding his shoulders … became increasing likened to his beloved buffalo.  You can decide for yourself from the undoctored, certainly not Photoshopped, picture of Goodnight and a buffalo. He attracted international attention with his breed of “cattalo”, a crossbreed with a buffalo bull and Angus heifer. They could handle the high altitude and sever winters of a buffalo and resulted in a meatier animal.  For me personally, a hundred and fifty years later, I’d say they had a buffalo body with the face and horns of a longhorn.

Up to this point, I could have written most of this with very little research. I was born and raised in the Texas Panhandle, so I’ve spent all of my life knowing about Goodnight and his innovative ways of ranching. I’ve visited the town named after him. My upcoming novella in “Give Me a Texas Outlaw” is set in his dugout in Palo Duro Canyon, and I’ve visited his grave many times.  But, the one thing he created that I presumed was named from him … the chuckwagon, wasn’t!

Prior to the chuckwagon, Cowboys often relied on eating what they carried in their saddle bags such as dried beef, corn fitters or biscuits. It didn’t take Goodnight long to discover that a well-fed cowboy is a happy one. 

Traveling the trail everyday carrying minimal baggage in hot, uncomfortable weather was tough on a cowboy.  In 1866, Charles saw his opportunity and began on his new invention – the chuckwagon.  He basically redesigned a Studebaker wagon to fit a cowboy’s needs.  The Studebaker was a tough Army surplus wagon that could last months of hard driving on the trails.  Goodnight designed his very own chuck box, containing a number of shelves and drawers.  He fitted this to the back of the wagon and it served to keep the cook’s things in order.  The box had a hinged lid, and when the cook (nicknamed “cookie”) shut it, he would have a perfect surface to fix meals on.  A water barrel holding a two days’ water supply was also attached to the wagon alongside a row of hooks, boxes, brackets, and a coffee grinder.  Goodnight also hung hammock-style canvas under the wagon to carry wood and kindling, which was scarce on the prairies.  An additional wagon box was used to carry the cowboys’ bedrolls, personal items, and food supplies.  Goodnight’s genius invention is used in cattle drives to this day. By 1880, Studebaker had created a model called the “Round – Up” wagon.

The chuckwagon was equipped with all kinds of supplies needed along the trail.  We typically think of a chuckwagon being used for food and cooking gear, but the supplies would also include ferrier and blacksmith tools for horseshoeing or making repairs to the wagon and horse tack. Sewing needles for mending clothing or saddles, first aid and alcohol tonics used for medicinal purposes. Bedrolls and rain slickers for the drovers. One side was equipped with a large wooden barrel to carry a two day supply of water. The other side often had a tool box, as well a smaller attached wooden box in front called the jockey box. Additionally, the wagon would have a canvas cover called a bonnet that had been treated in linseed oil to repel rain keeping items in the wagon dry. To allow headroom in the wagon, bows where added raising the canvas and providing securing points.

Now you know why I figured the chuckwagon was named for Chuck Goodnight, although I have to admit I’ve heard him called “The Colonel”, Charles, and Charlie, but never Chuck.

To my surprise, the name chuckwagon wasn’t derived from Goodnight’s given name, but came from 17th Century England as meat merchants who referred to their lower priced goods as “Chuck”. By the 18th Century, the term “chuck” was communicated towards good hearty food. It is of no wonder to take the name chuck for Goodnight’s simple creativity that revolutionized the cattle industry. I’m presuming here but figure that’s where a Chuck Roast and Ground Chuck got its name.

I couldn’t talk about Charles Goodnight without showing you all a picture of his gravesite as it is today.  Some of my writer friends, and my coauthors, never miss an opportunity to visit his grave when we’re near it. The Goodnight Cemetery is on the edge of the Caprock about five miles off the beaten track. It overlooks what was his land and it’s truly one of the most beautiful sights one could imagine.  You’d really have to know what you’re looking for to find it. 

On a visit about two years ago, we discovered that there were bandanas tied all over the fence surrounding his grave.  All kinds, some we could recognize by the markings; commemorative bandanas and organizations, but most were just plain everyday bandanas like those worn by cowboys for centuries, so those who have gone there to tie a bandana to honor the “Father of the Texas Panhandle” didn’t drop in by accident. I’ve tried to research how the practice got started, but could find little about who started it, but thank them.

Do you have any traditions that you’ve observed, but don’t know its origin?  I’d love to have you share them with everyone.  When the day is done, I’ll pick a reader to receive a copy of our latest anthology, “Give Me a Texas Ranger”.

 Give Me A Texas Ranger